Gov. Rick Scott announced a $90 million environmental project Wednesday morning to ease the flow of freshwater releases into Southwest Florida.
Speaking in Centennial Park in Fort Myers, Scott said the state would invest $30 million per year over three years to raise 2.6-miles of Tamiami Trail in the Everglades. The higher elevation will allow fresh water to be released south into the Everglades without the possibility of flooding the highway.
The project will be through the Florida Department of Transportation, bringing the state's share of the $180 million cost for the 2.6 miles of bridging to the $90 million committed. Scott said other things are being done to protect the state's estuaries as well.
"The state is doing the right thing. They are teaming up with the private sector and farms and doing things on public lands to store water so we can reduce this flow from Lake Okeechobee," said Scott.
He also pointed out that the federal government owes the State of Florida $1.6 billion in investments under a 50/50 cost sharing agreement. A lack of federal money has delayed repairs to the failing Herbert Hoover Dike System near Lake Okeechobee.
"They need to fix the dike, it's their job and their responsibility. It's the federal government's responsibility to fix the dike," said Scott.
Prepared statement from the Office of Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Scott Announces $90 M Commitment for Tamiami Trail Project: Major Project Will Direct Water South to Protect Regional Estuaries
FT. MYERS, Fla. Today, Governor Rick Scott announced a $90 million state commitment for the bridging of a 2.6 mile segment of Tamiami Trail road in South Florida. The project would deconstruct a section of the berm that Tamiami Trail road is currently built on, and replace it with a bridge so that water north of the road could flow into the Everglades, providing needed water to the Everglades National Park. The end effect would be to keep more high nutrient water from entering the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries.
Governor Scott said, "This $90 million investment will be a huge step forward in our efforts to restore water quality throughout South Florida. Every drop of water that we can send South and keep out of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries is a win for Florida families. My message to families being impacted is that we will not give up on you. We are putting forward strategies each and every day to address the water quality issues that are impacting families in our state."
Today's setup of the Tamiami Trail inhibits water flow, which forces more storm water runoff to drain from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, instead of flowing South through the Everglades. By constructing an additional bridge, more water will be able to flow naturally through the Everglades, which will keep nutrient rich water out of the estuaries.
The total cost of 2.6 miles of bridging is estimated to be $180 million. The State of Florida will make a commitment to match federal funds for this project, up to $30 million/year over three years or $90 million total from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) work plan. One of the most critical components of Everglades restoration is increasing water flow under Tamiami Trail into Everglades National Park.
The ultimate completion of the project will provide numerous benefit to the region, including:
Passing an additional 215,000 acre/feet of water from the northern part of the system, including Lake Okeechobee, to the south;
Aiding in the reestablishment of historical seasonal water depths and flooding durations that are critical to the survival of many fish and wildlife species;
Allowing water managers additional flexibility to deal with regional and system wide flood protection; and
Providing water managers flexibility in addressing Lake Okeechobee seasonal high water levels.
Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, "I want to applaud Governor Scott for focusing on the things that are important to Southwest Floridians. This commitment is a great step towards improving the water issues that face the Caloosahatchee River and the State as a whole. By raising Tamiami Trail we will be able to remove the constraints on water that is moving south.
The SFWMD is taking emergency action to store excess water on public and private lands and this fall the SFWMD will begin work on a $16 million project at Lake Hicpochee, to help control flows into the Caloosahatchee.
Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto also said, "Additionally, the state and the South Florida Water Management District have fully funded a $16.5 million shallow reservoir and restoration project on Lake Hicpochee that will capture and store water out if the C-43 canal. These combined efforts will allow more water to be captured and flow to the South, rather than to the Caloosahatchee, which we have seen is problematic for our estuary and our way of life."
Senator Joe Negron said, "Governor Scott is working diligently to make sure the Everglades are protected and restored. Last week I was proud to stand by him as he committed $40 million dollars to speed up the completion of the C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area project in Martin County. Today, I am also excited to support his $90 million commitment to bridge 2.6 miles of the Tamiami Trail in Southwest Florida. With the dedication to the environment that Governor Scott has shown, many future generations of Floridians will be able to enjoy Florida's Everglades."
Senator Garrett Richter said, "Governor Scott demonstrated today that he's committed to the long term protection of our community. The Tamiami Trail project means the world to families in South Florida, and it takes real leadership to get the ball rolling on such an important project. The Governor's $90 million commitment means we'll take incredible leaps forward in restoring water quality in South Florida and I look forward to its completion."
Representative Matt Caldwell, Chair of the Lee County Delegation, said, "Businesses across our region have experienced the harmful effects of the high nutrient waters of Lake Okeechobee. Unless we take drastic steps forward, communities year-after-year will continue to be impacted during the rainy seasons. That's why today's announcement by Governor Scott is so important. We must reengineer water infrastructure in this state in order to restore the Everglades and protect our estuaries. The Governor's $90 million commitment is a huge piece in the endeavor, and I want to thank him and his entire Administration for taking water quality issues seriously."
Representative Dane Eagle said, "The ultimate completion of the Tamiami Trail projects will be a game changer for water quality in South Florida. By Governor Scott taking steps forward in completing another major segment, Florida is becoming more proactive in its efforts to create a more sustainable environment for future generations. With this $90 million investment, we're not only committing to restoring water quality, but we're supporting Florida's future economic strength."
Representative Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen said, "I want to thank Governor Scott for his support of area families. While this season's rains have been extraordinarily tough on our region, the issues plaguing the Caloosahatchee deserve a long term focus from leaders in Tallahassee and Washington. With the Governor's $90 million commitment for the Tamiami Trail, he's demonstrated he's focused fully on solving our region's water quality issues."
Representative Matt Hudson said, "Adding additional bridge space to the Tamiami Trail will do a lot to keep nutrient rich water out of our communities. Every drop of water we send south is another drop that doesn't make its way to our shores, which benefits our people and economy. The Governor has clearly demonstrated that water quality issues are a priority and his decision will positively impact our region in years to come."
Representative Kathleen Passidomo said, "I stand with Governor Scott in committing $90 million dollars to help bridge the Tamiami Trail. By allowing additional water flow throughout the South Florida we are not only protecting the Everglades today, but we are restoring and preserving it for future generations of Floridians."
Representative Ray Rodrigues said, "This $90 million means everything to families in South Florida. By moving more water South, instead of East and West, we'll keep more high nutrient water from impacting our communities, which is critical to families and jobs in the region."
"The Governor's commitment to fund the additional critical bridging work needed to increase the water flow south will help provide relief for Florida Families," said Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. "This illustrates the importance of taking accelerated steps necessary to get the water right."
FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said, "This is a critical project for Everglades restoration and is long overdue. I am grateful for Governor Scott's leadership for bringing FDOT to the table."
Current Caloosahatchee Actions
The Governor said, "In addition to our long term investments, we're working with the water management district and local partners to take aggressive action on both coasts to mitigate the harmful impacts to families."
In addition, the Governor's Florida Families First budget invested $3 million to create an innovative wetland treatment system in Hendry County that cleans water flowing through the Caloosahatchee River.
Governor Scott said, "In addition to these measures by the state, we need the federal government to step up and authorize the C-43 project in Hendry County. This project will help keep storm runoff from impacting the Caloosahatchee and we need Congress to act."
Congressman Trey Radel, R-Southwest Florida, who serves on the Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure, said he is doing everything possible to secure federal funding for projects that protect water supplies.
"I will do everything I can to ensure I am fighting for the State of Florida and Southwest Florida to make sure we have a healthy environment, because at the end of the day, for us in Southwest Florida, a healthy environment means a healthy economy and jobs for all of us," said Radel.
Although the raising of Tamiami Trail is a step forward in sending more water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades, local environmental officials agree it's a minimal effort.
"Moving more water south is part of the solution and while it's important, the amount of water that will be moved is a drop in the bucket," said Jennifer Hecker, manager of Natural Resource Policy at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Hecker said Scott has only provided half of the Everglades restoration funds offered by his previous Republican counterparts.
She said approximately 210,000 acre/feet of water would be sent south but nearly one million acres needs to be moved to see a difference locally, leaving another 800,000 acre/feet of water.
The C-43 Reservoir Project would have a more a significant impact on Southwest Florida, by diverting an additional 200,000 acres, but the federal government has yet to authorize the funding to begin construction. Local environmental officials are hoping the U.S. House authorizes the project by Sept. 16.
Even though C-43 would stagger the freshwater releases into this region, Hecker said current plans for the reservoir have it only storing the water and not treating, meaning an algae bloom could develop in the stagnant water.
Alexis Meyer, local organizer for The Sierra Club, described the highway project as a first step.
"It's a good first step, but many other things need to be done," she said. "It's impacting businesses and our lifestyles. Tourism is our lifeblood in Florida."
She said there needs to be more regulation put on the companies who cause polluted waters, regulation on water quality, and getting the state to purchase the 180,000 acres of the Everglades Agricultural Area before the option expires in October.